It had everything one might expect at a birthday party. A string of colorful balloons and streamers lined the front porch. Two young girls in fancy dresses pranced in and out of the front door like wild ponies full of excitement as the guests began to arrive. There was a “do it yourself” Mojito station, a lovely catered dinner with all of the fixings, and the infamous “carmel cake” was displayed in the dining room.
It was a perfect setting that lacked only one thing. The Birthday Girl, and we were all missing her.
It has been almost 8 months since Sydney passed away, and her husband Todd had graciously opened up his home for an evening of celebration and remembrance. He has been amazing through this entire journey. As a confessed introvert, he has unselfishly time and again, invited people into his grief and loss with his amazing writing.
Now he opened up his home (and Syd’s closet:) which provided everyone with an opportunity to pause, laugh, feel, and cry. We were celebrating her birth, but more importantly we were there to commemorate the life that touched us all so much.
After dinner, the sharing began. Todd started the round with a hilarious story about his wife, Sydney. You can read about it here.
As the stories progressed and more people began to speak, my husband leaned over and asked if I was going to share. I shook my head and whispered, “No. I just don’t have any words right now.”
This was true concerning that particular moment, but it was also the case for my life over the past 6 months.
At the realization of my long season of silence, I got uncomfortable and very wiggly. I am known to lots of people by my words and by my laughter. Both of which could be induced by my quiet relationship with Sydney. So, I decided to try to find her.
I quietly slipped out of the living room and went to visit Sydney’s closet. It was just a small window preserved so that we can still get a glimpse of the whimsical, intrepid dynamo that she was because so much of that was displayed in what she wore.
I stepped into this portal and immediately teared up, but I also felt very happy. How can you only be sad standing amongst Sydney’s wardrobe and jewelry? All of the colors, the boldness, the patterns, and the style encapsulated her free spirit. It was like walking through a field of wildflowers.
I looked at some of her favorite books and necklaces. I ran my hand across her shirts and giggled at all of her silly, printed t-shirts and four pairs of the same running shoe. And then I saw them, the very large, but simple turquoise earrings. I moved in for a closer look.
Last spring, Sydney walked into my birthday party at Cantina. That may read as rather uninteresting. But it was a miracle that she was there and that she was walking. She had been in a wheelchair for months, and we all doubted that she would ever regain her footing.
When I opened her gift, I found myself an enviable recipient of a “Sydney Original.” She had made me some earrings, and I was very touched by how well she captured me. They were small, subtle, and very delicate turquoise earrings.
Standing there in her closet, I realized that she had the same pair, only Syd’s were larger and more dynamic. She had made me something of herself but had adjusted it to fit me.
I had found some words.
I quietly walked back into the living room and rejoined the group. I still did not know if I would share, but at least I felt more connected to the evening, to Sydney, and to myself.
***This is what I wound up sharing. I am writing it out as requested to be placed in a book for Todd and Sydney’s children:
“How I Met Your Mother.”
I knew of your mom through church. I say that only to communicate that is where I recognized her from the day we actually met in an Old Navy.
You have to know that your mother was a special kind of “lovely crazy.” I do not mean that she was unbalanced, for she was most certainly of a sound mind. But she would get SO excited about something, throw caution to the wind, and then chase after it with both hands. That day, she was excited about me.
As I was walked around the store, I noticed that everywhere I turned, your mom was right there. Finally, she popped around the corner and said (declared:), “Hi. I’m Sydney Gaylord. I heard you speak at church a few months ago, and I really want to get to know you. I really want to be your friend.”
I was startled, but mostly I was just deeply touched. Your mom had no idea of the kind of day that I was having or the darkness that I was being called into for redemption’s sake. But God did and here was your mom, a sun burst of beauty and light declaring me worthy of pursuit.
I smiled at her and said that I would very much like to be her friend.
A few months later, she invited herself over to my house for lunch. Again, I was very startled but, in this context, I was also intimidated. I knew that your mother had refined tastes and lots of experience with dining. I don’t cook and my home is very small and humble. But my insecurities were outweighed by my desire to be with your mother.
She brought you two girls, (this was before your brother was born) and you played with my daughters. You were SO engrossed with Maggie and Emma because they were “big” girls. You played dress up and played with the ‘misfits.’
I fixed your mother a grilled cheese sandwich, which I scorched, to go with our tomato soup. She sat in my kitchen and raved about the meal as if she were being served at the White House.
After we finished eating and had shared some of our stories, your mother got up and began “snooping” around.
You will hear this often pertaining to your mom. She had an unquenchable thirst when it came to finding out about something or someone. But it never felt obtrusive to me, only loving.
Well, maybe it felt a little obtrusive when she opened up my freezer and pulled out my 5 lb. bag of M&M’s. But, after she turned to me and said, “Now, I love you even more for having this kind of stash,” I realized that she was a safe, kindred spirit.
When it was time to go, she gave me a hug. That was when she saw a few photographs on top of my bookshelf. She picked them up and began rifling through them. (read *snooping) She stopped at one and said, “What is this?”
I looked at it and responded, “That is a photo I took of a hydrangea bush just beginning to bloom.”
“It’s amazing,” she said.
I looked at it again.
“Really?” I doubted.
At that point my husband had come home from work and had joined us.
“Really?” he echoed. “I’ve never thought much of it.”
I looked at my new friend and smiled. “Sometimes,” I said, “We have to outsource our encouragement.”
She threw her head back and laughed deeply and unabashedly.
She asked me why I took the picture.
“I liked it because Hydrangea’s can grow on dead wood. In this moment, it still looked pretty lifeless to me against the pine straw with only a few little green leaves poking out. It is a picture of where winter and spring meet. It is a picture of hope.”
She was quiet. Then she hugged me again and told me that I take great pictures.
About a week later, I got a call from your mom asking if she could have that photograph. She said she needed something for a class that represented “hope” to her and wanted to use it. I felt touched and was happy to give it to her. I scribbled a verse on the back and wrote “to my new friend, Sydney.”
A few months later, she gave me this.
She found it at a flea market and said it reminded her of me and the “hydrangea of hope.”
Now it sits in my kitchen window as a daily reminder that no matter how long or barren the winter, spring always follows. Your mother staked her life on that truth and now needs no daily reminder. She is living in the proof.
This was one of the many things that I loved about your mom. She believed by faith that in Jesus, hope can always be found if one only took the time to look.
That was what she did with me one day in a store, and with countless other people over the years. This was one of her special gifts to a hurting world, and it will never quite be the same without her.
(*taken at your mother’s grave the day of her funeral)